One of the things I’m enjoying most
about this year’s growing season is the opportunity to help others with
their home gardens. Last week I had a chance to chat with a friend and
former college roommate – Sara Heilig, about the garden that she and her
husband Nick would like to grow this year. The garden is driven by
three major factors: The family’s veggie preferences, their space and of
course Assistant Gardeners – Emma and Hailey.
This raised bed is surrounded by chain link fence to the North and West and a custom gate on the other sides.
The Heiligs currently have an 8’ x 8’
raised garden bed in place. The bed is surrounded on two sides (North
and West) with a 4’ high chain link fence and on the other sides with a
custom-built gate. The sides of the bed are made of three landscape
timbers stacked on top of each other. Also the bed was filled with
commercially mixed garden soil about five years ago and has clay earth
In addition to this 8’ x 8’ bed, the
Heiligs are also planning to build a 4’ x 6’ cedar raised bed inspired
by a picture Sara saw here.
Both beds get (or will get) excellent
sun. While bunnies are a concern, there are no other potential critter
problems (such as deer, raccoons or pets). Also, the 8’ x 8’ bed has a
path of stepping stones running through it to allow Sara to harvest the
hard-to-reach sections of the garden without compacting soil as she
steps into the space. I don’t know exactly where those stones are, so
please keep in mind that the plantings for this garden will need to be
adjusted slightly to accommodate those stepping stones.
Because they have two distinct garden
spaces, this seasonal family garden plan calls for planting each space
for a different season. The larger garden will be planted now for spring
and early summer veggies. The smaller garden will hold summer veggies.
Meanwhile, since the early veggies will be gone by midsummer, the large
garden will be replanted for a fall harvest. We’ll talk about this more
in a minute, but crop rotation and well-planned companion planting are
key to this second round of veggies.
The Heiligs (especially the little ones)
love snap peas and beans. This plan provides them with a whole heapin’
mess of beans and peas! They’re also fans of zucchini and would like to
try summer squash. Sara is interested in canning or freezing tomato
sauce this year so the plan also calls for some roma tomato plants. (Her
father is a tomato connoisseur with tons of plants each year so there’s
no need to plant slicing tomatoes.) Here are the other plants they’d
like to grow:
- Sweet Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Summer Squash
I also threw pie pumpkins and cabbage into the mix as recommendations.
Spring Garden (8’ x 8’)
The Spring garden (8’ x 8’ bed) features
sugar snap peas (Sugar Ann) growing along the North and West side of
the garden. Since peas grow on vines, they can be trained up the fence
and no additional trellis is needed. Because the climbing peas are to
the north and west, they shouldn’t block much sunlight. All the same, I
designed the garden so that the sun-loving veggies are to the south
(carrots, broccoli) and the veggies that can handle (and sometimes
welcome) a little shade are planted to the north (spinach and lettuce).
The wee bit of additional shade from the peas may even help the lettuce
and spinach to last longer into the season before they bolt (grow a
flower and become bitter tasting). The carrots are furthest south in
this scheme because they are the shortest and that way their sun won’t
be blocked by the taller broccoli plants.
Fortunately all of these cool-weather
veggies play nicely together so companion planting is not a large
concern. (There are no “bad” combinations to look out for.) Here are the
varieties I selected for this garden:
- Sugar Ann Snap Peas. This is a common garden pea that matures early.
- Tom Thumb Lettuce. I just loved the idea of little girls being able to pick cute little lettuce heads from their own garden.
- Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce. I was initially drawn to Rouge d’Hiver
lettuce because of striking purple-red color, but reviews indicate that
this variety is also very low maintenance and tolerant of a wide array
of growing conditions.
- Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach. This is a common variety of spinach that resists bolting and has a great taste.
- Berlicum 2 Carrots. Just a good old fashioned orange carrot!
- Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli. The majority of the
broccoli is this Italian heirloom variety because reviews indicate that
it is easier to grow than other varieties and produces earlier.
- Waltham 29 Broccoli. This is the most common home-garden broccoli variety. Reviews indicated that this one grows well too.
All of the veggies I’ve talked about so
far have high yields per square foot. The exception is Broccoli on the
other hand has low yields per square foot (only one plant). Because of
that, and because this family loves it, I devoted the bulk of the garden
This plan calls for a lot of greens. If
you wanted to add some variety, good choices would be beets (the baby
greens are delicious!) arugula and chard.
Summer Garden (4’ x 6’)
The summer garden is smaller and
contains all heat-loving veggies. For the most part these guys play well
together with one exception: Beans. Tomatoes and peppers don’t like
beans so I designed the garden to keep them as far apart as possible.
The end result was that I wasn’t able to plant very many beans (which,
remember, the girls love) but don’t worry – we’ll make up for that in
the Fall Garden.
Because there is no trellis here, the
beans are bush beans. Using bush beans also helps to avoid a shade issue
since these are all sun-loving plants. The tomatoes, however, will need
some manner of trellis. Here are the varieties for the summer garden:
- Golden Wax Beans. These are also a common garden vegetable with a creamy yellow flesh and a sweet taste.
- Dragon Tongue Beans. I will grow these for the rest
of my life. I love the flavor and they are so beautiful! For a family
that loves fresh snap beans, this one is sure to be a winner.
- Roma Tomatoes. These tomatoes are also known as paste tomatoes because they are great for sauces. We also like them for fresh eating.
- Black Beauty Zucchini. A classic home garden zucchini plant. It’s a bush variety so no trellis is needed.
- Crookneck Early Golden Summer Squash. Also a classic. Matures at the same time as the zucchini.
If the Heiligs are feeling adventurous, they could try substituting Golden Zucchini for the traditional green variety.
Fall Garden (8’ x 8’)
June doesn’t seem like the time to be
thinking about fall. After all , the summer is just getting started! But
by the middle to end of June, the sugar snap peas will be in decline
and other veggies like lettuce and spinach will be on their way out too,
depending on weather conditions. What a shame it would be to leave this
8’ x 8’ space laying fallow when there is still so much fair weather
left to the year. Here’s the plan for making good use of that space to
continue the harvest well into Fall!
Peas are legumes, and legumes are
nitrogen fixers. That means they add nitrogen to the soil. We’re going
to take advantage of that by planting a second crop of “heavy feeders”
in the place where the peas used to be. (Heavy feeders are crops which
“eat” large amounts of nutrients from the soil.) On the West side of the
garden, we’ll plant cabbage. Cabbage might not sound like the most
appetizing of garden vegetables, but trust me, you will LOVE the taste
of homemade coleslaw from home-grown cabbage! Along the north we’re
going to plant two cherry tomato plants and another zucchini plant. (The
family loves zucchini and unfortunately I wasn’t able to squeeze as
much into the Summer Garden as I wanted to.) There’s also an option to
plant pie pumpkins or winter squash (such as acorn squash) here… or
another zucchini plant. The nice thing about planting these on the North
fence is that the climbers (tomatoes, pumpkins) have a built-in trellis
and all of the shade issues I mentioned above apply again. Keep in mind
that any large fruit (bigger than cantaloupes) will need slings to keep them from slipping the vines.
The placement of the cabbage and
tomatoes is important. These guys don’t like each other, so we need to
keep them as far apart as possible. Another tricky thing about this
garden is that tomatoes also don’t like beans so we need to give them
However, remember that whole
thing about “heavy feeders”? The broccoli that was in this garden in the
Spring has “eaten” a lot of nutrients from the middle of the garden. A
great way to replace those nutrients naturally is to plant legumes –
like beans! Sweet, delicious, snap, bush beans. And tons of them! To
keep the beans and tomatoes happy, I’ve placed two rows of carrots
between them. With lettuce and spinach to the south of the garden,
essentially now we’ve swapped the “root vegetable section” with the
“leaf vegetable section.” That’s important because you should never
succession plant (plant a second time in the same soil) crops from the
same family (because they “eat” the same nutrients).
The varieties in the Fall Garden are the same as the Spring and Summer with a couple of additions:
- Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage. Beautiful and delicious. What more could you ask for?
- Tommy Toe Cherry Tomatoes. I grew these last year – they were my best tomatoes!
- Tendergreen Bush Bean. These beans are supposed to
be excellent for preserving – both canning and freezing. If the girls
don’t eat them all before frost comes, there will be plenty to save for
If garden success through the year
brings on a desire to try some more “exotic” crops, here are some
suggestions for alternatives:
- Trade carrots for parsnips
- Trade some carrots for turnips. Just a few – turnips have a very
distinct, almost spicy flavor. The greens are also edible and I like
- Trade some greens for kale or swiss chard.
- Swap a cabbage or two for cauliflower.
Note: Many of the selections I made for this garden came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find the same or similar varieties from other companies like Hart’s, Seed Savers Exchange, Sustainable Seed Company, Victory Seeds or Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.
The Heiligs’ garden has some other
challenges to address. In the last few years, Sara’s gardens have
produced wilty vegetables – or some things have not produced at all.
After talking with her about the garden, it sounds like the space is
just in need of a nutrient boost since the soil has never been amended
in the last five years. Adding a layer (4” thick) of a combination of
quality plant-based compost mixed with manure-based compost should do
wonders. If necessary, a natural fertilizer like fish emulsion would
help during the season. You can find other natural, organic fertilizers
(as well as compost) at major home stores like Menards and Home Depot.
Follow the directions on the packaging for success.
The garden also has a current, perennial
occupant: Strawberries. Sara would like to keep the strawberries,
however, they have only produced tiny, colorless berries the last couple
of years and clearly need a boost. Once we give the strawberries a
are aggressive enough that they may take over the whole garden! To
combat both issues, this plan involves transplanting the berries into
containers full of rich, organic soil (same compost mix as the main
gardens). For more tips on successful container planting for
strawberries, click here.
Another challenge is how to kill some
resident grass that just won’t go away. A safe, natural, effective way
to kill wayward grass in (or around) the garden is (drum roll) vinegar!
The acetic acid in vinegar – especially as it interacts with sunlight –
is able to destroy plants without unnatural chemicals. Because vinegar
used for household purposes has a relatively low amount of acetic acid,
boiling the vinegar in advance may help to concentrate the acid. Some
people also say that you can use boiling water to kills weeds (I tried
it and didn’t have success) so perhaps boiled vinegar has double the
power? Either way, I recommend that Sara apply the vinegar before
planting veggies as the vinegar will be just as harmful to desirable
plants as it is to weeds and grass. It’s also recommended that the
vinegar be applied on a sunny day.
And lastly, we need to talk about a
garden pest: Cabbage worms. These guys stink. I ended up picking them
off my broccoli by hand last year and it was a stinky way to spend my
time. I found that they were also fans of non-cabbage-family things like
leafy lettuce. This year I’m going to try placing nylons over my
cabbage heads as a physical barrier to keeping the cabbage worms (and
white moths that lay the eggs initially) off my cabbage. For more
thoughts on keeping cabbage worms at bay, click here.
To download the complete Seasonal Family Garden plan (including info on varieties selected and where to buy them) click here.
Posted by Katie
@ 01:12 PM EDT